28 November 2013

Army Party: Camouflage Birthday Cake & Cupcakes

I'm not a precision cake decorator, by any means. Birthday cakes for me need to be deceptively simple - the best ones look impressive but are actually straightforward and easy to do.

When Dash requested an Army Party, I was racking my brains trying to figure out what birthday cake I could make to suit - until I spotted the brilliant gummy Army Men lollies on KiwiCakes website. Suddenly I knew what I could do - a battlefield cake. My old fallback-in-a-roasting dish, a nice big rectangular cake canvas, on which to create an edible work of art.

I was already planning to make camouflage cupcakes, but a genius friend suggested making the birthday cake camo on the inside too. Again, deceptively simple. Here's how to do it...

Bake the Cake:

To fill the roasting dish, bake a double batch of your favourite butter cake recipe, or use this one I've doubled for you already:

3 cups of high grade flour
6 teaspoons of baking powder
2 cups of white sugar
1 cup of milk
4 eggs
250g butter, melted
2 teaspoons of vanilla

Beat all ingredients on high with an electric mixer for five minutes.

  1. Separate the mixture into three bowls and add a dash of gel food colouring* to each: Projel Khaki, Leaf Green and Black (with a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder added to the black bowl as well)
  2. Place spoonful blobs of each colour randomly into a well greased (or lined) roasting dish
  3. Continue until all the mixture is used up and bake for 25-30 minutes at 180oC or until cake springs back when lightly touched
*gel colouring must be used if you want your cake to have the vivid colours; regular food colouring will turn out dull and disappointing once baked. You can find professional grade gel colours on the KiwiCakes website

Once the cake has cooled, it's time to Decorate the Cake...

Mix up a double batch of buttercream frosting and separate into three bowls; Add a dash of gel colour to each bowl: leaf green (for the grassy areas), khaki (for a clay effect) and black with a little cocoa powder added to the black bowl for the dark mud base.

You will also need to have kept aside three camo cupcakes (see below) to create the knobbly hill. To decorate you'll need some mini flake bars, licorice straps and gummy army men lollies.

Separate the licorice straps into thin strips using your fingernail; this will become the "barbed wire" for your trench.

Create your battlefield layout: (1) Cut the tops off two cupcakes and arrange the three of them into a hill in one corner of your rectangle cake. (2) Dig out a shallow "trench" on the opposite end of your cake with a knife (you can see the camouflage effect inside the cake *yay*)

Using a rubber spatula, apply the darkest colour frosting to the inside of the trench and its neighbouring cake edge, and to secure the cupcake hill and "cliffs"

Now comes the part where you can be artistic

  1. "Paint" and "sculpture" your battle field with the buttercream frosting
  2. Use the khaki "clay" colour for the sides of the hill and around the edges of the trench; put the green grass colour on last, but then mess it up a little with the clay in spots - it is a battle field after all... no golf course grass here!
  3. Using a rubber spatula gives you great control and it goes on quickly. 
  4. Layer up the colour to create depth and texture (aerial view)
  5. The "cliffs" side view - see how textured and random the layering is, but it creates a real sense of depth

Now you get to have fun adding in the details. Position your army men on the battlefield (cut the legs off before placing them in the trench); wind the "barbed wire" around slivers of flake bar "logs"; scatter flake bar crumbs around the edges of the trench for added texture

Lastly, I added a "flag" on top of the hill, and candles. 

AT THE PARTY (Overhead on the way to lighting the candles): "Hey come on! Come check out this epic cake!" Yep, our platoon of 11-year olds were impressed...

... and inside, a camo surprise!

Camouflage Cupcakes

After all that you should find making the camo cupcakes, super-easy! Use your favourite recipe or mine (found here); mine makes 12-15 cupcakes. Double it if you need more than this (remember to keep three cupcakes back for your "hill".

  1. Use the three gel colours as before: Projel KhakiLeaf Green and Black 
  2. Separate the mixture in three bowls - for the cupcakes I actually had four colours, but three works better, I realised in hindsight.
  3. Add your gel colours to each bowl of mixture (with a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder added to the black bowl as well)

Line the cupcake tins with plain cupcake papers (remove these later and put them in your fancy wrappers; if you bake the cupcakes in your fancy wrappers, they will lose their colour and go yucky. very disappointing.
  1. Add a small blob of khaki mixture to each cupcake liner with a teaspoon
  2. Add a blob of each other colour to your cupcake liners
  3. Keep adding mixture colours randomly until all the mixture is used up.
Then, you bake them. (When they're baked they come out all colourful and camo-like.)

Once the cupcakes have cooled, remove them from their plain wrappers and put them in their fancy ones (I used dark green with scalloped edges from KiwiCakes.

  1. Mix up a batch of  buttercream frosting, separate into three bowls and add your three colours as before Projel KhakiLeaf Green and Black (with a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder added to the black bowl as well). I suggest making the colours LIGHTER than what I did by using less colouring, as the colours darkened between when I first mixed them on Friday and our party the next day
  2. Put random blobs of colour into an icing applicator (mine is a $2 shop cheapie, but works just fine)
  3. Apply a swirl of icing to each cupcake - ooh look, it's camo!
Then use any leftover icing and lollies to turn plain cookies into army themed ones...

More Army Party Stuff:
27 November 2013

Army Combat Party (a fun adventure)

When your kids get older, they start to get very definite ideas about what they want in a birthday party and for the past year all Dash has wanted to do for his 11th birthday is go to Laser Combat (a cross between laser tag and paintball). So an army-themed party it had to be.

With the laser combat part taking up most of the afternoon, I still wanted to have food and hang-out time at home (I do love an at-home party) so wanted to create an Army H.Q. at home where we would assemble before the battle, then regroup for food and cake.

I have to admit I had rather a lot of fun creating this one. The styling had to avoid anything too babyish or cute; it needed to be rugged with a slice of "cool" for a bunch of adventurous 11-year old boys. I think we pulled it off...

[Pallets recycled from the dump - stencil tutorial here; camo duvet cover found on TradeMe for $2;
cargo net from Ali Express with free shipping]
I turned the carport into an Army H.Q. Mess Hall/Rec Room. Stencilled Pallet signs, old canvas camp stretchers, sacking, some camo no-sew bunting and a camouflage cargo net all helped to create a great army atmosphere.

My trusty lemonade stand did duty as a Hydration Station...

[coffee sacks $2 from Geoff's Emporium, camo cups from Kiwi Cakes, Army soda label printables on ginger beer bottles here; genuine army water bottle brought back from China; no-sew bunting tutorial here]

The recruits congregated first at the Army H.Q. where they made use of the Rec Hall (foozeball, soccer) until the convoy was ready to depart for the battlefield. Off to Laser Combat we went.

This is "Magic", the guy who brought Laser Combat to New Zealand. He has created the ultimate place for adventure-loving boys (and girls) in Riverhead Forest.

The legend goes that he's ex-Army (ex-SAS, say the boys, who gaze at him wide-eyed as he gives them their briefing).

As the boys gear up and slap camo on each other's faces you can feel the excitement building. Some of the boys have played before and know they're in for a great adventure. The rookies are excited too; the minute they lay their eyes on those laser guns they realise this is going to be awesome. Me? I'm starting to wish I was playing...

It's just like indoor laser tag; each "soldier" wears  a sensor on their head, which records when you are hit. Each team has a "medic box" which acts as each team's base and records the team's data; when someone is "killed" (after being shot five times) they go back to the medic box and "respawn".

Magic shows the boys how to use the gear, how to stay safe, how to be commandos.
"If you do this, it's all good, but if you do that, it's not good times... not good times at all," he says (and the boys come home quoting him, haha.)

I think this is seriously the coolest game ever. It's like laser tag but without the claustrophobia; like paintball but without the pain. It's the best of both worlds.

[my dad was especially requested by Dash to play laser combat; he's in his late sixties but he had an absolute blast and came back telling of how he lay dead-still in the grass while Mr G stood right over him, hunting him, but not seeing him.]

The two teams did battle while the party slaves had to go home and get the food ready. Sniff. I so wish I could have played. They all came back to base raving about the fun they'd had. Memories were made, people. And the birthday boy finally got his wish.

After all that crawling through the forest playing sniper, those lads were starving hungry by the time they got back to H.Q. So we fed them...

Camouflage cupcakes, army men cookies, chips and "parfaits"; a fruit platter, carrot sticks... and hot dogs (which *oops* exploded in the pot cos I left them in the water too long, so no photos of them).

[camo cupcakes; edible army men lollies from Kiwi Cakes]
I also laid out for the recruits, their stencilled army t-shirts (I found t-shirts online for $2 each, so I couldn't resist doing one for each of them) and hand-stamped metal dog-tags...

I am rather proud of these, and it must be said that the lads thought they were awesome too (and have been observed afterwards wearing them proudly around the place). Just the right amount of army cool...

Before we served cake, Sergeant G couldn't resist challenging the recruits to an impromptu assault course, to test their mettle...

Nothing like a bit of climbing, swinging, crawling and a few pushups on a full stomach...

And finally, it was time to sing happy birthday to our special 11-year-old (it was his actual birthday) and blow out the candles on what one of his pals called "an epic cake".

The cake was a "battlefield" - with camo on the inside. Remarkably simple to do, but so effective (battlefield cake tutorial here)...

All in all a fabulous birthday celebration, and loads of very cool adventurous fun was had by all. (P.S. Magic is making a video for me of the our session at Laser Combat; when it's ready I'll add it in here so you can all see how fab it is)

26 November 2013

The Winners of my Christmas Book Giveaway (is it YOU?)

Today's the day; the winners have been drawn.
Thank you to everyone who entered my Christmas Book Giveaway!

The Prizes are all ready to be dispatched: for two New Zealand winners and one Aussie winner, a signed copy of the book, a mix CD of my favourite Christmas Carols (to help you get in the Christmas mood) and some charming wooden Christmas decorations to hang on your tree. (The overseas winner's book will come direct from Amazon)

So who are they, these book winners? They're right here on the Rafflecopter gadget, randomly drawn from 159 entries...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations  Cass Henderson and Simone Jaunay in New Zealand, Sophie Blanc in Australia and Nikki Clark in the UK!

Tomorrow morning I'll be popping your prizes into the mail, so keep an eye on your letterbox in the next few days.

Thank you to everyone who has shared the book on social media and on their blogs; I really really appreciate it.

Here's some of the blog posts people have written:

(If I've missed your blog post from this list please let me know!)

I spent yesterday morning writing out envelopes and posting off all my book orders to date. I have now received all the books I've ordered from Amazon in the States to on-sell direct to my NZ readers and won't be ordering any more. Once they are gone, they're gone.

If you have bought a copy of my book, would you help me out by posting a review on Amazon for me, once you receive it? The more reviews it has, the more likely people are to find my book in searches. And if you love it (which I hope/think/believe you will), please show it to your friends and tell them where to get a copy of their own.

It has been a massive effort to pull this together in such a short time after my illness in September/October, I'm proud of how it has turned out and now I'd just love the world to discover and fall in love with my little story.

If you didn't win a copy of the book, here's where to get it:

And in case you haven't seen it already... here's that brilliant St Pauls video clip of my story...

Merry almost-Christmas ♥

*if you liked this please share it* 
25 November 2013

Stuff I'm Grateful for and Loving etc

It's hot. Summer hot. The weatherman predicted rain for the weekend, but the opposite happened, for which I am truly grateful.
Summer has landed on the shores of NZ a week early (it's officially still spring) and Auckland is basking in the heat. The air smells of cut grass and growing things and there was not a drop of rain to spoil Dash's birthday weekend.
Aside from being grateful for the weather, I am also grateful the birthday party went off, and that Number One Son had a fab time with his friends. the party post will will be coming on Wednesday - once I figure out how to get the photos off my camera. Which is just not cooperating lately, despite having a brand new memory card installed. Gah. Oh well. Maybe Santa will be kind to me and bring me a Cannon.
(Ha! Who am I kidding? Maybe I'll sell enough books and I can get one myself. Ha! Who am I kidding??!)

Which brings me to The Book, which has also landed on the shores of NZ. I'll be writing out envelopes and mailing books just as soon as I finish this post. So if you bought one, keep an eye on your letterbox the next couple of days. And if you didn't, you have until this arvo to win one (along with a CD "mix tape" of my fave christmas songs and maybe some bonus gorgeous wooden christmas decos from PopRoc Parties).
I'd be loving it AND grateful if you'd enter. And/or buy my book. Just sayin. (ENTER HERE, QUICK! four books to be won; open to NZ, Aussie and Overseas readers. Details on the giveaway post)

Oops, I digressed a bit there from my grateful post. It's just that there's so much going on, and it's hard for me to stay on track.
Right, back to gratefuls, and things I'm loving...
I got a lovely surprise last week when my mum and dad turned up with their gift for me: a hundred-year-old heirloom print which once belonged to my great-grandmother, then my grandmother, then hung on the wall of my childhood homes... and now they got it reframed for me.
I was blown away, I can tell you. It's now hanging in pride-of-place on my dining room wall. I love it. And I'm super duper grateful too.

And lastly, before I start stuffing envelopes and mailing books, I'm loving Scrag's enthusiasm for Christmas. He requested The Santa Clause DVDs from fatso, and is now spending every waking minute playing "santa's sleigh" in the back garden.

We may see an upside down plastic table and some wooden sawhorses but he sees a magical flying sleigh pulled by Rudolph and Comet...

So while I'm grateful for childish imagination and a love of Christmas, I've gotta say...Christmas?!?!?! Eek!

Twenty-nine sleeps to go, Scrag tells me, and less than a week till we get our Christmas tree, he reminds us every morning. My baby has his first wiggly tooth (it's hanging by a thread), Christmas is less than a month away and I simply don't know where the time is flying off to in such a hurry.
Slow down, just a bit wouldya pleeease?

Join in with The Grateful Project
Use #thegratefulproject hashtag on Instagram and your "Gratefuls" will show up here automagically...

Use the #thegratefulproject hashtag to join us on instagram (and twitter)... or you can share your gratefuls in the comments section. There's even a button so you can let others know you're joining in...

Grab button for The Grateful Project
<div class="The Grateful Project" style="width: 230px; margin: 0 auto;"> <a href="http://www.greatfun4kidsblog.com/search/label/The%20Grateful%20Project" > <img src="http://i788.photobucket.com/albums/yy162/donnasimone/thegratefulprojectbutton_zpsf9af8ea6.jpg" alt="Greatfun4kids" width="230"/> </a> </div>

Gratefully Yours,

*If you enjoyed this, please share it*
21 November 2013

The Truth About Growing Up

Years ago I heard my Pastor say something that resonated with me to my core, and I've never forgotten it.
He said, "We think, as parents, that we are there to help our children grow up. But the Truth is, they are there to help us grow up."

Yesterday, while biking along the waterfront with my hubby for my birthday, I had a revelation of this truth in a whole new way.

I often find being a parent overwhelmingly hard, just because of my own personal struggles. And when you have a child who doesn't quite fit the box, who provides extra challenges with learning and behaviour on a regular basis, it can be very easy to start up a pity-party and whinge to the Heavens, "Why me?"

As I contemplate the challenges we will face getting this beloved-but-rather-tricky child through the minefield of adolescence, at times I've wondered what on earth God was thinking. I have quite often worried that I am not up to the task.

Kind people, well-meaning friends encourage me that "You are just the right person to be his mother..." but I sometimes struggle to see it. After all, I have my own issues. I battle anxiety, I struggle to be consistent and sometimes my temper and my emotions can run away with me as the daily grind overwhelms me. As much as my child might struggle with emotional regulation and impulse control, sometimes I'm not the best example.

I was thinking about all this and pouring out my thoughts to Mr G as we were biking along the waterfront on my birthday morning, when I found myself saying something surprising; words like a revelation from Heaven...

"This child is going to force us to face the things about ourselves that we need to change; he's like the sandpaper we need to round off our rough edges..."

And there it was. I saw it.
No more "Why me, God? Dontcha know I've got enough struggles in myself (with patience, persistence, self control) - why would you give a weak person like me a child with extra struggles...?"

I need this child as much as he needs me.
Because the very things I struggle with are being challenged by my need to parent this child well.
Because I might not be willing to face the challenge of inner change for my own sake - but I will do it for the sake of my child.
Because he needs me; he needs his mother to be an example of triumphing over struggles.
He needs to see my example, so he knows it can be done.
I need to forge this path in front of him, so he can follow in my footsteps.

This child in all his uniqueness is the perfect child for me.
And I, in all my weakness, am the perfect mother for him.

I'm not just here to help my child grow up.
My child is challenging me to grow up too.

*If you like this please share it*
19 November 2013

It's my Birthday... but You're Getting the Presents (GIVEAWAY)

Happy birthday to me! Today I am forty-four and to celebrate I'm giving away some copies of my book. A bunch of copies, to bless you or (if you've bought one already) a friend.

First let me give you a spiel (humour me - it's my birthday, after all)

The story was originally written as a gift for my children in Christmas 2011. The idea came to me as I was pondering how baby Jesus’ arrival on Earth was not at all what any of us humans (in all our wisdom) would have chosen if we wanted to change the world. The whole thing really was completely unexpected. The story just came to me all of a sudden, as I imagined the angels in heaven being shocked at God's crazy ideas and one (small but clever) angel saying "Brilliant! They won't be expecting that!"

I sat and wrote it down in twenty minutes flat then illustrated it  with photos of my kids (turning them into the angels); I printed it and gave it to them on Christmas Eve. 

[the original version, printed on Snapfish]
Friends I showed my homemade book to suggested I try to publish it, which I did (self published through Blurb) for the first time last year.

In Christmas 2012 I also submitted my story in script form to the creative geniuses at St Pauls in Auckland, who create "Glow - Carols by Glowstick". Each year they create a film for the event and then share it with the world on YouTube - They chose my script and made it into a gorgeous little five-minute movie.


After its release, An Unexpected Christmas quickly gained popularity, getting around 200,000 views in the three weeks leading up to Christmas. (We hope that this year it might go completely viral).

This year I've managed to find a way to make the book available on Amazon and Kindle.
I have refined the design and added other “angels” - gorgeous little ones borrowed from friends and family. They represent the children of the world, with roots in the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as my own angels from Downunder.

The story still gives me goosebumps. I think you will like it too.

Now that I've worked so hard to get my book onto Amazon and Kindle I need to let the world to know about it. Which is why I'm holding this giveaway, in an attempt to entice you to share the book with your friends and followers.
Some of you wonderful people may have bought the book already. That's OK. You can pass the prize onto a friend if you win and I'll send them the book as a Christmas prezzy from you. I'll even giftwrap it.

Four books to be won:
  • Two to be won in NZ - plus a bunch of Christmas goodies 
  • One to be won in Australia - plus a mix CD of my favourite Christmas tunes
  • One to be won in the US or UK - sent direct from Amazon.

Here's where to get the book:

Use the Rafflecopter gadget to enter the giveaway. there are lots of ways to get extra entries. And remember - you can keep the book for yourself or nominate a recipient xx

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Winners will be announced here on the blog next week on November 25th and will also be notified by email.